Solid Quarter

Visit Trembling Pillow Press for poetry books, broadsides, chapbooks, and Solid Quarter Magazine.

Visit New Orleans Poetry Fest for the annual 4 day poetry festival directed by Bill Lavender and Megan Burns.

Megan Burns' Poeticsofbone&city project on Tumblr

Friday, August 24, 2012

Narcissism, Madness & Alters: Nicki Minaj and Unica Zürn (Part 1)

Kayne West's Monster video opens with this statement: The following content is in no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any groups of people. It is an art piece and shall be taken as such. 

The contradictions in this statement are not our concern. Obviously, art can be taken however the viewer receives it. To be told that something is only art is not a waiver for offense, or is it? And why is a disclaimer needed. At some point, someone must have thought, something here is offensive. Does a disclaimer of art make it less so? 

The video depicts an array of scantily clad dead women strewn about furniture and in bed with rappers. I wonder who the "groups of people" are that would be offended? 

But that is not our concern. Our concern is how the female rapper in this video with three other male rappers, who appear to be enjoying a mansion full of dead or dying female forms, makes art in the video. 

The video in full: (Nicki Minaj begins at 3:42) 
Monster (Kayne West feat. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj)

Nicki Minaj employs two alters in this video, Harajuku Barbie and Roman Zolanski. She doubles her performance removing the outside need for dead female forms and instead concentrates on the mirror play of bouncing between two versions of herself. 

In other words, her art is deadly serious about the function of narcissism and madness. One of her alters, the more submissive Barbie character is bound and initially covered in a black cloth, while the more dominant Roman character struts about brandishing a whip. When the cloth is removed from Barbie's face, she immediately becomes vocal and is physically silenced by the Roman character. Her submissive position contrasts her vocal arguments and apparent lack of fear in the situation. To further mimic the full narcissistic game, there is an erotic tension between the two characters as they struggle for control and Roman grinds against the seated figure. It's sexual, it's provocative and it's much more stimulating as far as art than a bunch of dead women lying in the background while you rap. But Minaj enters a narrative shaped by women who use their madness to make art. In fact, she enters into a realm of obsession about a woman's use of her body and her mental stability when she employs her "performative madness." 

In her groundbreaking work on Unica Zürn, Caroline Rupprecht in her book Subject to Delusions spends a great deal of time examining what narcissism is and how it relates to Modernist art. Narcissism springs from the mythological tale of Narcissus who falls in love with his reflection and perishes subject to his own unfulfillable desire. Freud discusses his take on it in On Narcissim: An Introduction. Lacan then adapts Freud's theory to forward what he terms the "mirror phase." Lacanian psychoanalyst Guy Rosalto takes it up in "The Narcissistic Axis of Depression." The idea of Narcissism in art or artist revolves around the gaze.  Rupprecht tells us in her book that Narcissism provides: "the promise of being able to return to some kind of primal unity, of mending what has been divided (and thereby doubling oneself) [it] involves a peculiar kind of pleasure: the pleasure of fantasy" (5). She says, "To me, narcissim is about the fictions we create about ourselves and others, the uncertainty about what is 'real' and what is imaginary" (7). The image or fantasy plays a primal role in narcissism, as well as the individual's complicit desire to be both aware of the fantasy and to believe in the reality of it. In Lacanian thought, the fantasy fills the void of what is lost, what is vacant or lacking in the self is restored by the self's delusional fantasy. 

Zürn, Untitled, 1961 (Ubu Gallery)

In Zürn's work, her "madness" becomes both the subject and the reason for her work. In Dark Spring, Rupprecht in her introduction states: "It depicts a flight from language into vision...Compared to these fantastic images, reality is 'pathetic'" (DS 4). Zürn's The Man of Jasmine written before Dark Spring is described as: "an imaginary god-like figure, the Man of Jasmine, compels the protagonist to write the story of her illness by sending her poetic hallucinations" (DS 16). Her partner Hans Bellmer has been often quoted as saying that Zürn had "written herself into madness." 

While Minaj's alters may be a form of "performative madness," it remains true that her career and by extension her livelihood depends upon her believing in their autonomy and their ability to express themselves through her. Zürn experiences her images as hallucinations and her "Man of Jasmine" figure is both based on a real figure (Henri Michaux) and yet also a hallucination that she believes in, which is pushing her to write her story. In the same way that Narcissus becomes addicted to his reflection, Zürn becomes addicted to her hallucinations; it's through her interactions with them that she is able to create complex images, anagrams and writings about her experience. Does her writing create her madness or her madness the writing or are they both existing in parallel states within one body? 

Minaj as well is able to express herself and create a brand based on her alters. Some have speculated that a disruptive childhood or personal problems are the source of her alters. But for the most part, these characters seem to be extensions of herself that she is able to employ mimicking madness but also creating a space through other bodies for her own body to perform and say certain things. It is not a coincidence that the alter, Roman Zolanski, is a man who performs the anger and rage that Minaj feels she cannot perform as herself. Similarly, it is the "Man of Jasmine" who demands that Zürn record her illness through her writing as though the authoritative male figure gives one the space to explore these places where female bodies cannot trespass alone. From The Man of Jasmine (trans by Malcolm Green) "Then her vision appears for the first time: The Man of Jasmine! Boundless consolation! Sighing with relief, she sits down opposite him and studies him. He is paralysed!What good fortune. He will never leave his seat in the garden where the jasmine even blooms in winter." The "Man of Jasmine" is the part of Zürn strapped down in the chair, who although physically powerless is not without power and control verbally as "he" begins to issue commands that Zürn feels compelled to meet. 

As an interesting side note, Zürn when she initially met Surrealist Hans Bellmer was often tied up and photographed by him. One could say that in their initial encounters Zürn played the role of Minaj's Harajuku Barbie while Bellmer played the role of Roman. As their relationship went on though, Zürn invested more deeply in the split self, or fantasy of the other, thereby allowing a communion where she could be both the object and the creator. The fantasy removes Bellmer as the other and allows Zürn to play at the unity of her divided self; the fantasy is still enacted by a male figure but it emerges from within Zürn providing for a sense of wholeness. Much like, Minaj's figures who allow her to retain complete autonomy over the divided portions of her art.  

Unica Zürn photographed by Hans Bellmer, 1958

This is a great site for looking at more of Unica Zürn's drawings from books that are now out of print:

In another post I will talk more about Surrealism, madness, and more of Zürn's work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gemology by Megan Kaminski (Little Red Leaves)

(Little Red Leaves Textile Series, 2012) Editor, Dawn Pendergast

Gemology is a poem in the city, moving in the veins of the streets among buildings, in the backseat of cabs, and along the body, embodied in the bones and skin of the metropolis. The “polis” and the body, both intimate and generic folding up into lines that spool out to such shattering images:
Typography by Jakub Konvica
     city built on line body on body
     alphabet buried beneath street

Kaminksi celebrates the movement and the chaos of the city as it replicates and mirrors the precise chaos of the line of the poem. Likewise, the lines of the poem inhabit the metaphor of the body’s desire to mimic the city or is it the city’s desire to mimic the body? Each anatomy detailed, each subject to disaster and all lettered somewhere between manufactured and magical: “Vowels roll drip down thighs/ conjunctions across backs.” What is more erotic than the city? What is more desirable than the words sung hovering breath by breath above the line of the body? The poet enters us; we hope to be suspended and we want to be carried away:

            promise to bring back remnants
            rosaries of fingers and toes
            button eye button nose
            bring me back to light
            carry me in soft palms

Photo credit
This little book is a soft missive, slipped between recycled cloth and intricately stitched together; it’s a vessel for us to handle. It feels soft to the touch, the fabric gives a bit along the page, and the words within are hard to hold. A stitching attempts to piece together a whole; a stitch is a line like the line of a poem that binds. These lines pull together the intimate recesses of the body and merges them with the political census of the larger body: the bodies that govern us: “Dear neighbor, dear Liberty/ you are probably not a terrorist.” Bodies are vulnerable, gloved in a casing easy to breach, but how does that translate to the imaginary body? The body of the whole, the bodies we create by imagining they exist: city, village, Senate, House, community, family. Kaminski wants to cuddle, she wants to astound; we are drawn in by the lyrical smoothness and seduced by “kisses linger ruby-lined-wrist.” This book wants to bed you, it wants to take you on a tour of the sites, and then it wants to split you open: “melon ripe and red/ let them all out.” What do you want from the book? What do you unbury inside as these words coalesce? A gem is nothing more than a rock subject to time and pressure that we suddenly decide to call a jewel. 

Photo credit

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Links and Contacts regarding UNO's firing of Bill Lavender

Dave Brinks about UNO's decision to fire Bill Lavender and put UNO press on hiatus: 

Dear Friends,
Today the news from the New Orleans poetry community is very, very bad.
Poet BILL LAVENDER, director of University of New Orleans Press has been SACKED by the administrators at University of New Orleans.
Bill Lavender not only resurrected UNO Press, but under Bill's stewardship these past four years, UNO press has published an astounding 80+ excellent books nationally and internationally; and the press is by no means strapped for funding. UNO Press is currently regarded as one of the most prestigious and  financially self-sustainable university presses in all of the United States.
Be assured, this so-called "elimination" is purely POLITICALLY motivated, not otherwise.
Dean Susan Krantz of the University of New Orleans informed Bill Lavender of his "elimination" recently via email while Bill was still in Scotland fulfilling his duties as Director of UNO's Abroad Program.
Stand with US!
SPEAK out!
Let them hear your VOICE loud and clear!
Pressure is mounting from all sectors near and far to EXPOSE the corruption and unethical conduct at the University of New Orleans at the very highest levels!
Bill Lavender's so-called "ELIMINATION"  is a devastating blow which will be felt deeply by poetry communities everywhere-- from New Orleans to New York to California to Brazil to Zimbabwe--and everywhere in between!
Let higher ed charlatans know you DETEST of their actions!
INFORM fatcat administrators that their professed soulessness toward POETRY is indeed a high act of treason to the art we LOVE!
They must answer for this singular INJUSTICE to POETRY and to poet Bill Lavender!
We need every nano of LOVE and SUPPORT you can give!
YOUR voice will be LEGION!
Love, Strength & Peace Through Poetry Always!
Sincerest Regards,
Dave Brinks
* * * * * * * *
Please send a personal letter of objection to ALL email addresses listed:
University of New Orleans Provost Louis Paradise:
University of New Orleans President Peter Fos:
University of New Orleans, College of Liberal Arts, Dean Susan Krantz:
University of New Orleans, Director of Creative* * * * * * * *
Links to media reports covering this outrageous act (please post your personal comments to articles):

[NOTE: If you tweet, post and use hashtag #UNOpress to get these articles trending]
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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

New Poems & Essay on Poetics Online

My new essay on Pierre Joris's poetics and work with Magherbian poets is now live over at Rain Taxi. 

edited by Peter Cockelbergh

“There is no difference between inside and outside at the poem’s warp speed.”
              —Pierre Joris, Notes Toward a Nomadic Poetics

Also very happy to have some poems over at Yew Journal along with images by Stephenie Foster. Yew Journal is an online journal of innovative poetry, hybrid writing and images by women.Founded in 2011 by poet Carolyn Guinzio and designer Stephenie Foster, Yew is a venue to showcase three poets per month along with visuals provided by the poets, the editors, or other contributors. Text and image will interact in a manner that enhances and maintains the integrity of both.